What do you do when you’re given a compliment? Do you hem and haw and eventually mumble thanks? Do you try to talk the person out of it? Do you turn it into a criticism about yourself?
When you lack confidence it’s hard to accept praise from others. You don’t think you deserve it. It can make you feel uncomfortable.
One way to build self esteem, and consequently reduce depression or self doubt, is to give more weight, if not at least equal weight, to compliments and positive feedback. Accept compliments with a thank you. Allow yourself to revel in the good feelings that come when you hear good things about yourself or your efforts.
I often encourage clients to write compliments, positive reviews and feedback down. When that niggling self doubt or negative critic pops up, pull out this information and read it over. Ask yourself how both can be true, the criticism of your inner critic and the things on your list.
Those who lack confidence often ignore or discount any thing positive about them and focus solely on negative information. What’s true is that we have things we do well and things we don’t; areas where we excel and others where we struggle; times when we’re kind and generous and times when we’re not at our best.
Focusing only on where you’re lacking, fall short, make mistakes, etc., gives an inaccurate picture of you. Accepting your flaws and embracing your strengths, accomplishments and abilities is the healthiest way to view yourself.
Most of my clients who struggle with self-esteem issues have a hard time saying no. To them the word “no” has a lot attached to it: the potential for conflict, that the other person might withhold love and affection (rejection) or punish them in other ways, or they might hurt the other person’s feelings. In order to avoid the possibility of conflict, rejection or pain they ignore their needs.
You give away a little bit of your power each time you ignore your needs and wants. You make promises to yourself that you don’t keep, “I’ll say no next time.” You pretend what you want or need is not so important. You get upset with yourself for not being more assertive. All of this chips away at your confidence. It becomes a vicious circle of not feeling good about yourself and then doing things that make you feel worse.
You can feel like you have a beacon on your head telling others you’re an easy target. Clients often complain that they attract friends who take advantage of them. There may be some truth to that yet it may be more about being drawn to what feels comfortable. (Comfortable doesn’t mean it feels good but that it feels “familiar.”) If you’re used to being treated a certain way it can feel uncomfortable to be treated another. You may unintentionally shy away from those who treat you well. The fear is often that if the person really got to know you, they wouldn’t like you.
Self esteem and assertiveness both require believing in yourself and in the importance of your wants and needs. You can’t have one without the other.
Everyone has an internal dialog. You may be aware of it or not. Your self talk can help or hurt your self esteem. If you are constantly putting yourself down or making judgments about yourself, it chips away at your confidence.
You have control over increasing your confidence by paying attention to your thoughts. Your internal dialog can be such a habit that you may not realize what you’re saying to yourself. To learn to tune into your mind chatter, you might have to start by paying attention to how you feel and work backwards to what you were telling yourself just before this feeling.
This is the basis of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: an activating event (A) leads to a thought or belief (B) which leads to a feeling or consequence (C). Here’s an example: you’re really enjoying the discussion in class (or a meeting). You decide to raise your hand and share your thoughts. The instructor sees your hand then looks at the clock and says he needs to leave early and ends class. You go from feeling energized and excited to hurt and embarrassed. So working backwards from those feelings (consequence (C)), the event (A) is the instructor not calling on you. The belief/thought (B) might be that the instructor doesn’t value your input or that others are making some negative assessment about you because you weren’t called on.
If you’re able to work backwards and identify the thoughts you had, you can begin to change them. You can come up with more positive beliefs about what happened: that the instructor simply didn’t notice your hand being raised; that raising your hand coincided with him remembering to check the time and then that he needed to leave early and told the class—he was so distracted by what time it was he didn’t acknowledge your hand being up. Your classmates may be feeling empathy with you because of a time they raised their hand and weren’t called on; they may be so absorbed in their own thoughts they didn’t notice your hand being raised or they may feel disappointment that they didn’t get to hear your thoughts.
The point is you get to choose what you tell yourself. It can be positive or negative. Since your thoughts are yours and yours alone, why not make them positive?